Learning Actively: What Games Bring to the Table

To those in-the-know about the latest and greatest in the board game world, or even many of those higher-ups in the world of International Relations Theory, the COIN series may be something that is already very well known. To the rest of us, it is a rather obscured secret. The COIN series, a set of board games authored by Volko Rhunke, a CIA analyst with a knack for game design and a passion for simulating real-life outcomes of events.

Close up of Labyrinth- The War on Terror 2001-?

Close up of Labyrinth- The War on Terror 2001-?

The board games, such as Labyrinth, Cuba Libre, and A Distant Plain are meant to simulate scenarios that occur in real life, and predict the possible outcomes of events taken by world leaders against opposing forces and states. Recently, the American University, in Washington DC has purchased a multitude of Rhunke’s games as a part of its persuasive gaming initiative. The 4N Policy Now team was invited to play some of these games, as well as pick the brains of other people in attendance at several of the events. Co-Founder of 4N Policy Now, Daniel Suitor, and I as well three of our other contributors- Will Lee, Jeff Hawn, and Andrei Camurungan sat down to play Labyrinth. One of the more complex games in Rhunke’s series, Labyrinth simulates the Global War on Terror from 2001-? The game starts off with a set of parameters which replicate the state of the world in a post 9/11 scenario. The rules of the game are very complex, and took a while for the team to fully understand, but once we did, the game got extremely heated. I’ll preface this by saying that the game is set up to be 2-players only, but we broke into two groups instead. The groups, one categorized as the United States and the other as Jihadists, had to draw a set of cards, and choose carefully how to play them- as in the real world all of the cards had a complicated set of assets and liabilities to their play. The game also allowed for other real world influences, such as oil and other resources as motivations for invasion or alliance of powers, as well as the possibilities of forming plots against one another, gaining and losing prestige, transitioning governments to democracies, and maintaining a hard or soft stance against terrorism.

U.S. Forces Plotting the Invasion of Afghanistan

U.S. Forces Plotting the Invasion of Afghanistan

In the spirit of play, Daniel and I made some bold moves during our first turn against our Jihadist friends Will, Andrei, and Jeff. In our first turn we launched a full war and invasion of Afghanistan, help negotiate Indo- Pakistani relations, and lent aid to the former Soviet Union block countries. As a result, we were able to stabilize governmental systems in Eastern Europe, ally ourselves with Pakistan and India, and eliminate all of the terrorist cells in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, these action also resulted in the spreading decentralization of terrorist forces throughout the region, as well as an inability to withdraw troops from Afghanistan quickly enough to combat this spread. Due to the time constraints of the event itself, we weren’t able to play out the War on Terror much farther than this. However, we were able to take away many different lessons about realist theory as well as war and motivational strategy, the organization of terrorism, and the effects of world perception.

These games provide a vital learning aspect when it comes to the application of abstract ideas that are taught in classrooms. They teach the classical aspects of action and reaction, of making sure that you consider what the possible responses by your opponent will be, instead of just haphazardly throwing around power as because you have it. Games of all types can actually bring a lot to the table when it comes to educational experiences. Rebecca Sutton, an American University Alumni, and donor to its library gave us a few minutes of her time during one of the events held by the Persuasive Gaming Initiative at American University. Rebecca Sutton is a Resource Teacher of Special Education at Seneca Valley High School in Maryland. She currently studies gamification, which is how basic game design elements can be used to make things better. She believes that using gaming techniques such as those found in games like FarmVille can make learning more engaging to students. She also cited two schools that exist in New York and Chicago called Quest to Learn, which use gaming methods in order to teach- using test and lessons as knowledge quests and battles, and grades and G.P.A’s as “leveling up” in order to make their students learning more engaging. Moreover, many in higher education, particularly those in the video above are finding great use in games in order to teach core concepts and lead to student actualization of their implications. Games such as Pandemic or the Prisoners Dilemma offer a deep insight into concepts such are realism, liberalism, constructivism, and capitalism. Games may just now be making their way into the classrooms of higher education, but they will surely not leave for ages to come.   4N Policy Now is a non- partisan, non-biased organization. All of the views expressed in the content published on this site are the sole opinions of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of 4N Policy Now.   Suggestions for further reading: Information from Volko Ruhnke Himself  More on the Persuasive Gaming Initiative

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